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Drawing Is Seeing

September 2, 2009

Chip Sullivan, professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, writes in his book Drawing the Landscape:

We draw because it is the act of seeing and thinking clearly. It is an integral part of the creative process, and the ultimate design tool. Carlo Scarpa, an Italian architect, best summed this up when he said, “I draw so I can see”

The goal here is not to discuss the value of drawing or sketching in the creative process. This is well handled by Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, in his book, Sketching User Experiences and others. The point is that there is no clearer way to see something than to draw it. Drawing makes you stop and really look. When was the last time you did that?


When I’m sitting in a landscape sketching, something amazing happens. I start to hear birds and insects that I hadn’t noticed before. I see textures and colors that I was oblivious to moments earlier. I start to smell the rotting leaves and fresh berries. The simple act of focusing to draw has awakened my senses. I am seeing the landscape so clearly that years from now, when I look at the sketch, I’ll be transported back to the moment.

The same ‘seeing’ happens when I’m drawing an object, such as a coffee machine. I discover details like how the handle is attached to the glass decanter and poor design is revealed as I notice a sharp edge or difficult to read cup measurements.

So I present to you a challenge. Over a lunch time, grab a piece of paper and a marker, go to the park and draw something. Don’t worry about your drawing ability – no one has to ever see what you produce. Just relax, focus and draw. Make sure you look up from your paper every 5-10 seconds to ensure that you’re really looking at what you’re drawing. You’ll become very aware and you won’t believe what you see.

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